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What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise

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August 1997


Missing Budget Facts
Reporters Ignore Key Details of Agreement

In May, MediaNomics reported that the networks had abandoned any skepticism about the budget agreement between Congress and the White House. In fact, to describe the deal they often used the same language ("historic," "a breakthrough," "a landmark") as those they were covering.

In late July and early August, as the agreement was actually passed by Congress and signed by the President, network reporters became a bit more aggressive. Still, there were some facts about the deal that network news viewers didn't learn:

The federal budget would have been closer to balance next year without the budget deal. In an August 15 Washington Times column Bruce Bartlett, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, pointed out that "Congress was forced to add more than $100 billion in new spending to the budget in order to buy Bill Clinton's signature on the tax cut. The spending increases include $24 billion for a new health insurance program for children and $15.5 billion in additional welfare benefits. As a consequence, the federal budget deficit next year actually will be higher than it would have been without the budget deal." No network evening news budget report mentioned this.

Congress and the President put off tough choices for a future Congress and President. "Meanwhile," Bartlett added, "the balanced budget in the year 2002 that everyone is so keen on celebrating is critically dependent on $97 billion in spending cuts that do not take effect until that year."

NBC's Lisa Myers, on the July 28 Nightly News, filed the only network evening news report mentioning that most of the spending cuts in the plan wouldn't be enacted until after the year 2000.

This budget deal undermines last year's welfare reform. An August 12 Investor's Business Daily editorial pointed out that the budget deal adds billions in new spending over the next five years on elderly and disabled immigrants. This, IBD argued, "will revive a benefit widely abused by families who are far from poor, and it will leave less money for the welfare-to-work programs at the heart of [last year's] reform plan."

The budget deal also includes a provision that would force all of the normal mandated benefits onto employers who hire welfare recipients. This will price many welfare recipients out of the job market, forcing the government to create make-work jobs for them. Florida Democratic Governor Lawton Chiles told IBD: "To spend our money (to meet this provision) is to take some people away from the chance to get a job." No network evening news budget report mentioned this.

One thing all of the networks mentioned, though, was that this budget does nothing to reform the long-term structural problems of entitlement programs.

In May MediaNomics pointed out that CNN's Frank Sesno was the only network journalist to report that because of the baby boom generation, it will take two workers to support every retiree in 2025 while it took five workers to support a retiree in 1960.

He said Social Security and Medicare, "left alone, will explode early in the next century, and this new budget does not put the pin back in the grenade" and that in the next century "those big deficits could be back again times two."

This time around, ABC's John Cochran, on the July 29 World News Tonight, CBS's Eric Engberg, on the July 29 CBS Evening News, and NBC's David Bloom, on the July 29 Nightly News, did comprehensive reports on this important issue.

Because of these three reporters, as well as Lisa Myers, network budget reporting improved during late July and early August, but because of many missing facts, viewers remained largely uninformed about the budget deal.


Rich Noyes


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